Travels through India

This is a story about three great cities, Mumbai, Kolkata and Bangalore

Chapter 12

Gokul is one of those vast drinking factories in the south of Mumbai on the Colaba causeway, perpetually filled with drunken office-goers, a few revelers and some very few embarrassed couples. The couples mostly haunt the AC section of the restaurant which is invariably also populated by some drunken voyeurs who take pleasure in the couples’ embarrassment. Tarun and the group took a seat close to a window, which gave them a somewhat squalid view of the street, and also helped them breathe a little in a place that was mostly not ventilated as well as it should have been.

“I am famished”, murmured Anup, rubbing his eyes. “You’ve ever eaten here, Subho?”

“Nope”, Subho replied. “I told you na! My brother said this place is good. So don’t blame me if it’s a damp squib. But we are stoned. You’ll enjoy practically anything right now, as long as there’s lots of it.”

“Kya deoon? (What shall I get you?)” asked the short, angry-looking waiter in patchy brown clothes with a dirtier looking rag, with a scowl and a frown, reminding Tarun of his Mathematics teacher in school who could not smile, even when he was happy. What a sad life he must have had, he wondered, and smiled at the waiter, who now looked at him with a bigger frown and utter distaste.

Subho ordered three beers, Haywards 5000, which thankfully the place had in stock. “Have you noticed how rude all waiters in Mumbai are?” he asked the Tarun and Anup, who looked blissfully stoned and were looking out of the window at a yellow Fiat taxi which had just rammed into a parked scooter, and whose driver was now having a rather knotty argument with the owner of the scooter.

“Yes, it’s a grand tradition”, replied Tarun, with a smile. “Every city has its traditions. Venice has its gondolas, Rome has its libidinous men, Delhi has the Jats, and Mumbai has the waiters. Which reminds me, we absolutely must leave a good tip. Did you see the way our waiter looked at me?”

“He’s naturally unhappy”, said Anup. “You can’t blame him. Probably something terrible happened to him, which makes him incapable of happiness. Or maybe he just has a face like that, which makes him physically incapable of happiness. Small difference, but important.”

Subho stared at Tarun and Anup with a wide-eyed smile, and leant over. “You guys are stoned. I wish I had a recorder with me now.”

The waiter came back with the three bottles, threw open the bottles with an opener which looked older than the restaurant itself, and went away. A moment later, a battered menu with a glossy cover, landed on the table with a dull flop. It had a picture of a large chicken on a white and blue background, and Tarun could distinctly sense a smile on the face of the chicken. Or is it a rooster, he thought. Why is it smiling? He wondered. Perhaps, it is happy that it gets to fulfill its destiny as a bird, or maybe it’s just meant to be ironic. He laughed aloud, sometimes one finds art in the most unheard-of places, like the cover of a menu in a dimly lit mediocre restaurants.

“What are you laughing at?” asked Subho.

“Nothing”, said Tarun. “The beer’s good huh? What’re you guys having?”

Dinner was a tremendous mess of fried pomfret, accompanied with Anup’s trademark booze-snack, masala papads. This was followed by chicken tikka masala, lamb curry and fish tikka masala with rotis and parathas. All of them were stoned enough to finish everything. “Have you noticed the murals on the walls?” asked Tarun, having finished drying his hands on the unimaginably small piece of tissue paper. “They are kinda artistic…”

Subho looked around with some amount of lethargy and distaste. “I had way too much food, I don’t think I can finish the beer. Yeah, but aren’t these cartoons?”

So cartoons are not art, said Tarun to Subho silently, you conceited self-indulgent neo-realist. “I wonder who painted these. Painting on walls has never been easy, you know.”

“Who says?” asked Subho. “I painted on the walls of my hostel room when I left it. It wasn’t tough.”

Tarun said silently, yes you little retard. Of course, it wasn't tough. I know you painted on your hostel room walls when you left it. But you did it with toothpaste, and fluorescent pens, which is a little different from making cartoons which tell a story and have a meaning.

He was however, in no mood to argue with Subho. Making someone understand his point of view was something which Tarun never really cared a lot about. He always felt that viewpoints were a personal thing. A thing which can never be objective – because it’s always innately personal. He hated his friends who loved to discuss topics and debate with each other and then spend hours agreeing to or refuting each others’ statements. He always believed that all viewpoints which you openly expressed in public, are not purely personal, a lot of it is influenced and the result of slow imbibitions of news, views and literature. Plus most personal views are not always agreeable, he argued, so all people invariably modify them to be easily acceptable to their audiences.

“That guy’s definitely a drug dealer”, Anup said, looking intently at a clean-shaven short man with a mass of ragged hair standing at a darkened street corner.

“How do you know?” asked Tarun, partly intrigued and partly excited.

“He has been standing in the same spot ever since we entered this place. And several goras have come up to him, and given him money. Goras love the cheap Indian drugs. Plus, they have this thing about mystical revelations, half of them come to the country just to learn yoga, have tantrik sex, and attain enlightenment.”

“How many goras have you met in your life?” asked Subho, crossing and uncrossing his hands.

“None so far”, replied Anup, “But I bet the stereotype isn’t misplaced. Do you know that there’s a place in Karnataka, a beach, which they’ve named Om beach, because the aerial view of the beach looks like the mystic symbol. All the goras flock there because they believe they’ll become saints the moment they set foot there. Of course, after they reach there, they forget all about enlightenment and start smoking a lot of weed. Which helps in some ways, hahaha” Anup laughed loudly, startling the waiter who had slithered up to their table and was standing there, pen and writing pad in hand.

“Aur kuchh chahiye (Do you want anything else?)”, he asked, clearly not in the mood to get anything else for the group.

“No”, replied Subho. “Bill de do (Give us the bill)”

“I am surprised you didn’t ask him for the cheque”, said Anup sarcastically, with a slight smirk, after the waiter had deposited a soiled piece of paper on the table on which he had scribbled something with red ink.

“I’ll pay”, said Subho, partly out of magnanimity and partly because he was stoned and drunk at the same time.

Tarun was reminded of the last months in college, when everyone he knew had been consumed with the mad desire to go abroad and do research and earn a well-deserved Ph.D. He remembered how worried his parents had been when he had said that he had no intentions of going to the states, not even for higher studies. They had become all the more surprised when he had said that he wasn’t even interested in an MBA. Tarun’s father had asked him falteringly – So you mean to say that you are just going to take a white-collar job, and stay like me all your life? Tarun had wanted to reply that if that’s good enough for you, I am sure it’s gonna be pretty good for me too. He had refrained from replying but those words had somehow stuck themselves to the back of his brain. At times, he wondered if he had taken the correct decision in not opting for research in place of the job which he was about to do. With a smile, he recollected the madness of the GRE preparations, the late-nights, the word-lists, the pretentious half-baked conversations and debates, all in English, the online tests, the prolonged discussions about the scores and how the colleges had become stricter in the admission procedures. None of that had actually mattered to him, but he had had to sit through them nevertheless, concerned but never adequately. He also remembered with a smile, the enamored-with-US kind, who would study maps of the large cities, and see pictures of strip clubs on the internet, and would ask the confused waiters of Park for cheques instead of bills. He remembered the feeling of loss when one after the other, each one of his wingmates, and then his hallmates left the institute for greener pastures, leaving him to wonder if he would ever get those friendships back again, if he would ever feel the same way about relationships again. Things change, but he wasn’t sure that they always changed for the best. Tarun felt suffocated and a little tired. I need a joint and some sleep, he thought to himself, and said – “I hope we are going back to the hotel now?”

“Yes, I guess so”, replied Subho, counting the change which the waiter had brought back. “How much do we leave for him?”

“Leave twenty bucks. Should suffice. I need some fresh air”, said Tarun, and walked out.

The crowds had thinned, but the drug dealer was still standing at the street corner, smoking a bidi and looking around for prospective customers. Tarun wondered if he should go and pick up some stuff from him, but later desisted. This guy mostly sells to foreigners; his rates would have been adjusted accordingly. I don’t want to be ripped off in my very first week in the city, he argued. The crowd at Bade Miyan’s looked thick as ever, large families interspersed with a few drunkards who were grabbing a quick bite before heading back to the bar for the last round of drinks. There was a slight drizzle which helped Tarun organize his thoughts. I just need a little perspective on life, he said silently. This is just going to be a job, and I will just get used to it, just like I got used to life in KGP. It felt unbearable in the beginning, remember?

He was so wrapped up in his thoughts, that he barely heard Subho cry out – “Hey! What are you doing?”

He turned back, and looked, horrified at Subho struggling with a disabled man with amputated legs clinging on to Subho’s thighs with all his strength. Subho was trying to move, with one foot forward, but to Tarun, it looked like he was frozen with either fright or disgust. The man was clinging on to Subho’s leg, looking upwards, his disfigured face moist with the slight drizzle of the night, water dripping from the tip of his nose, his hands clasped, partly begging, partly praying, almost for mercy. Subho kept repeating, “Leave me, leave me… Do something, Tarun, will you?”
Tarun called out to Anup, who had moved far ahead, humming to himself. “He just wants some money, give him some…” he said.

“I can’t", was Subho's faltering reply.

Tarun wanted to say – “What do you mean? You can’t.” but checked himself. Subho seemed genuinely afraid and somewhat incapable of movement. He took some loose change out of his pocket, a mixture of a five-rupee coin, and some one rupee coins and handed them over to the disabled man. The man released his hold, whispering profuse thanks.

“What was that?” asked Anup, who had come back and was staring at Subho who was shivering just a little bit.

“Yeah!” exclaimed Tarun. “What happened? Why did you get so scared? It was just a beggar. Haven’t you seen a beggar in India before?”

“Did you even look at his face?” muttered Subho, a little embarrassed but still a little scared. “It was all disfigured, almost like someone had emptied a whole bottle of acid on it. And he was holding on to me, his grip was pretty much vice-like; I don’t know if it’s the weed or the booze, but I distinctly got the feeling that I had done that thing to him, his face, and his legs, and he was begging for forgiveness, or revenge, or something. I don’t know, there were just too many thoughts in my mind then…”

“Calm down”, soothed Tarun. “We’ll go back to the hotel, we’ll have a cigarette and then you can go to sleep. Do you want to talk to that prostitute you saw the other day?”

“I …. I don’t think so”, replied Subho, somewhat guiltily. “Let’s just go back now.”

2 Responses to “Chapter 12”

  1. # Blogger Saunak

    Jan 3rd 2007. Thats a long time now u know!

    Hope u find some inspiration to write some more some day.  

  2. # Anonymous Kranthi


    just finished the 12 chapters... waiting for more..  

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